Originally posted on Celtics Town  |  Last updated 4/19/12

Very few people considered Avery Bradley a candidate to break out and help inspire a second-half Boston Celtics surge, but Kevin Garnett saw the potential a lot earlier than most. As soon as Garnett began playing pickup games with Bradley, he noticed the way the youngster played defense, the fast-twitch muscles that moved more quickly than most everyone else’s, the work ethic that would make such a drastic improvement possible. At some point shortly after the two met, Garnett took his then-rookie teammate aside.

“I told him if he continued to work, he had the tools and the ability to be something special in our league,” Garnett said.

Keep in mind, at this point last season Bradley was a shy young turtle who still hadn’t mustered the courage to emerge from his shell, who was actually afraid to enter practice drills at certain points. He played, at least offensively, with a debilitating hesitance which kept any of his talent from shining through. He could not shoot, could not run an offense and did not initially make Danny Ainge look intelligent for picking him with the 19th pick in the NBA Draft.

Yet Garnett could see a spark, a future. Maybe he didn’t envision the day would come so soon when Bradley would play 36 minutes as Boston’s de facto point guard, scoring 17 first-half points on an array of shots that included three-pointers, floaters and mid-range jumpers, but Garnett looked at his young teammate and encouraged him to reach his full potential.

“Now, [he's] getting confidence on the offensive end,” Garnett explained after Bradley finished with 23 points on 10 of 14 shooting, just the latest in a growing line of Bradley masterpieces. “Being able to make shots, have confidence in his own game, come out, run our system, understand his place here. Now, he’s playing with a free mind. He’s playing aggressively, attacking the rim. On top of everything, he’s hitting three-pointers, chest-bumping, having his own little swag if you will. I love it, I love it, man.”

We’re still at the point where Bradley has yet to achieve the full respect of his peers. That seems odd considering the major impact the former Texas Longhorn has had on Boston’s second-half resurgence, but some players in the NBA still don’t know what Bradley’s made of.

Stan Van Gundy knew: He admitted that the Magic needed to prepare for Rondo, not just his pesky defense but also his growing offensive game. Glen Davis knew: He’s watched from afar as Bradley surprisingly — even to Davis, who watched Bradley far more closely last season than any of us did — shows the world he’s not just a defensive stopper.

But Jason Richardson still doesn’t know much about what Bradley does on the court. He’s one of few, or maybe many, who have yet to fully catch onto Bradley’s rise.

“I haven’t played Bradley, so I don’t really know much about his game,” Richardson said before Wednesday night’s outing. The Magic wing did later note Bradley’s improved corner triple, a point that Van Gundy must have stressed, since both the coach and Davis mentioned it during pre-game chatter, and he remembered the defensive job the Boston guard did on Jameer Nelson earlier in the season. But it was clear that Richardson had not yet been fully enlightened about Bradley’s skills, at least before the game.

“I’m not guarding him tonight. I’m on Paul [Pierce], so I have a tougher task,” Richardson said with a chuckle.

Van Gundy also discussed Bradley’s cuts, but on Boston’s first possession, Bradley snaked behind his man for an easy bucket. It’s easy to tell someone to beware of backdoor cuts for the entire game, but lapses happen, and when they do Bradley is taking advantage of them. He’s become one of the league’s best at moving without the ball, and when you factor in his growing dribble-penetration game and sprouting jump shot, especially from the deep corners, Bradley is quickly becoming an offensive threat.

“He had to play the point the whole night tonight. I don’t think he could have done that earlier in the year,” Rivers noted.

Said Keyon Dooling, “Obviously, Avery’s emerging. We might have to invent a Big Five or something.”

“He’s always had the tools when he came out of Texas — extremely athletic young player,” Dooling continued. “But he’s got his confidence, he’s got the confidence of our coach and he’s really carved out a niche on our team. You can talk about the offensive part with Avery, but he’s the best perimeter defender in the league. If you did a poll around the league and asked point guards who they hate playing against the most, everybody would probably say Avery Bradley.”

The ascent has been steep and quick for Bradley, who briefly played his way out of the rotation earlier this season. His defensive prowess paved the way back into Boston’s lineup, and ever since then he’s been riding an escalator that only travels upward. Now he’s taken a Hall of Famer’s spot in the starting lineup, earned the trust of everyone in and around the Celtics organization and become a shining light to help guide Boston into the future.

“What you see is the product of a young guy being around our system and gaining confidence within that. Not just from Doc Rivers and his coaching staff, but being able to gain some confidence from his teammates, even within himself. Avery’s playing as good as any other player in this league, and that includes on our team. He’s playing with high confidence right now,” Garnett said.

“I love seeing young guys who work hard and have it pay off. I love young guys who listen and actually put in the work,” Garnett added. “From seeing where he’s come from to where he’s at now, it’s just beautiful, man. I hope they’re able to reward him with some longevity, something long-term. But I’ve always said to him, ‘Continue to work. Because that’s what’s gotten you this far.’”

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